Barryhas always had a funny and interesting premise. A hitman, Barry Block/Berkman (Bill Hader), is bored of killing people and finds a new purpose in life through acting. While there are wild antics that escalate out of Barry’s control, causing him to fall back on his hitman abilities, the show’s premise often tries to tell us something more about the masculine urge to solve problems through violence.
While there are many critically acclaimed shows starring villainous male characters that ooze coolness through violence, Barry is a show that flips the script on the genre to question the relationship between masculinity and violence.
Skip Intro breaks down how the men of Barry subvert the audience’s expectations of violent men in TV while asking if masculinity has to be defined by violence. Check out his full-length video below.
The Not-So Difficult Men of Barry
Similar to many of HBO’s shows, Barry falls into the genre dominated by violent men, or Difficult Men, like Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) from The Sopranos, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) from Breaking Bad, and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) from Mad Men.These Difficult Men find freedom in violence, giving them an escape to live a more authentic life outside of society’s moral acceptance. Audiences often praise these characters for their charisma and ability to go after what they want.
While most of these Difficult Men find freedom through violence, Barry feels stuck in the cycle of violence that is a direct result of his hitman career and finds freedom through his desire for domestic life. He is imprisoned by the violence that most Difficult Men find freeing.
Barry rejects the use of violence to validate who he is as a person. Acting, instead, becomes his therapy, but not the same type of therapy that Tony Soprano goes to. Unfortunately, Tony uses the lessons he learns about himself through therapy to become a better monster, rejecting the epiphanies he has about who he is as a person and accepting that he is a bad guy.
If Barry were good at acting, he could use his newly found release to his advantage, but that’s not what Barry wants. Instead, acting helps Barry process the violent acts he’s committed and been praised for, pushing him towards the realization that he is a bad guy who desperately wants to change but doesn’t know how to.
'Barry'Credit: Warner Bros. Television Distribution
The inversion of traditional masculinity is the pinnacle of Barry’s character arc, but he isn’t the only character to do this.
Goran Pazar (Glenn Fleshler), the leader of the Chechen mafia, looks like the typical mobster and fills the archetype, but his setting is a stark contrast to his character type. He tortures people in his garage where there are pink girly toys everywhere, or talks about plans to raid a stash house while at his daughter’s gymnastics practice. These “family-friendly” locations are a far cry from Tony’s strip club. Pazar is a mob boss with a family. He can’t separate the two, so he values his family more than the mob.
The character who probably exudes both non-traditional values of masculinity is Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan). The polite and often naive lieutenant is one of the most likable characters and is more focused on aesthetics and ideas than gang operations. He reads self-help books, insists on delivering a bullet via the mail system for theatrical effect, and takes forever to decide what table he should buy to sell his drugs on. He is not an inherently violent male character and thrives because he does not rely on the violence of the gang to feel fulfilled.
These three men don’t want violence to define their happiness. Instead, they all see violence as a way of making ends meet, but wish to put their time and energy into other forms of emotional release. Yes, there is anger in these men, but it is how the characters choose to come to terms with those feelings that shape their narrative arc.
Anthony Carrigan as NoHo Hank in 'Barry'Credit: Warner Bros. Television Distribution
The Meaning Behind the Subversion of Violence
It’s undeniably entertaining to watch violence on TV because it is an escapist fantasy for most people. Often, shows and films will show violence in a cool, badass way that makes us think, “Now that’s a real man.”
Barry subverts those expected moments of violence with humor that breaks the tension of the scene. The humor deflates any sense of coolness or "badassery" in the show’s violence and separates the act from the essential "manliness" that we often see.
Most of the acts of violence happen in real-time rather than through a montage of slow motion, eliminating the veil in TV that praises and glamorizes Difficult Men for being violent. Barry shows us the long-term effects that violence had on Barry, and that he only felt a sense of belonging through his crimes. He doesn’t think he is a good person for his actions, but he doesn’t know any other way to find a sense of belonging. Once he finds a new outlet through acting, Barry can process his emotions in a healthy, constructive way.
Barry is about a Difficult Man who wants repentance and forgiveness but is constantly encouraged to be violent.
TV is an empathetic medium, and audiences know what to like about these characters because of how much time we spend with them. Alec Berg and Bill Hader, the creators of the show, are aware of our ability to forgive these characters and challenge us to think about how we view violent men on TV.
Bill Hader as Barry Block/Berkman in 'Barry'Credit: Warner Bros. Television Distribution
The men of Barry challenge the expectations of traditional masculinity because they desperately want to reject their violent nature in favor of a healthier outlet. We expect violence from stories about hopeless men floating through their lives unfulfilled, but Barry shows us that these characters don’t need to turn toward violence. Instead, they can find outlets in normal, domestic life that satisfies them.
The stories we write about masculinity and how violence factors into it should challenge our traditional views of what a man or woman looks like or acts like. I believe gender is a social construct that deserves to be challenged, and you can do that by writing an inverted genre piece that comments on the characters usually presented in that genre.
Do you have a favorite character from Barry? Let us know who and why in the comments!
Source: Skip Intro